Building great cultures in the Corridor

By Joe Tye / Guest Column

When Bob Dent and I were researching the book, “Building a Culture of Ownership in Healthcare,” we wanted to include great exam­ples from industries other than health care. Bob is senior vice president and COO/CNO at Mid­land Health in Texas and my company works primarily with hospitals, so we are very aware that health care organizations have much to learn from culture leaders outside the industry.

At Values Coach, we use a construction met­aphor to describe what we call the “invisible ar­chitecture” of an organization. In our construct, the foundation is core values, the superstructure is organizational culture and the interior finish is workplace attitude. As it turns out, we didn’t have to look far beyond the Corridor to find out­standing examples of values and culture excel­lence to include in our book.

The foundation: Core values

A statement of core values should define who you are as an organization, what you stand for and what you won’t stand for. It should be the single-most important document in the organi­zation and tightly woven into new employee re­cruiting and orientation, performance appraisal and daily operations. A great statement of values is so authentic and unique that it can never be copied by a competitor. If you see “Create fun and a little weirdness” in a values statement any­where but Zappos, you’ll know it’s a rip-off.

Unfortunately, many organizations resort to generic statements that do little to differentiate them from the competition – or, for that matter, from the grocery store down the street. Of course the organization values commitment, account­ability, respect and excellence, but who doesn’t? If your statement of values could be posted in the lobby of a competitor without anyone no­ticing, you need to ask yourself whether it’s au­thentic or just generic boilerplate.

On the careers webpage for Coralville-based Integrated DNA Technologies, you’ll see this: “IDT’s Core Values form the foundation of who we are, what we believe and what we strive to be. They articulate what is expected of us, guid­ing our relationships and directing our deci­sion-making. In our ever-evolving business, the Core Values are our constant. Our Core Values define our unique culture, shape our future and ultimately cultivate our success.”

One of the company’s eight core values is: “Be yourself unless you’re a jerk.” In six words, they capture the essential elements of a core val­ue: Be authentic and don’t try to impress us by pretending to be someone else, be a team-player and treat others with respect, and leave your jerk attitudes in the parking lot. And they’ve done it all that in a way that conveys a sense of humor.

Being clear about your values is a powerful compass for setting priorities and making deci­sions. Cedar Rapids-based Van Meter is guided by its 5P core values: People, Partners, Progress, Place and Profit. A 2015 company post on The ESOP As­sociation Blog said: “At Van Meter, we work hard at building a culture of ownership and employee engagement for the long-term success of our busi­ness… So during this latest economic downturn, the employee owners of Van Meter committed to having no layoffs or workforce reductions. We continued to invest and hire new peo­ple while everyone else was cutting back… This has proven to be a good decision.”

The superstructure: Organizational culture

Organizational culture – the infrastructure in our “invisible architecture” construct – is the personality and character of the organization. Every organization has a culture – or, more often than not, a frag­mented culture that’s a patchwork quilt of inconsistent cultures from various parts of the organization. The question is whether that culture has evolved haphazardly or is the result of the deliberate creation of a cultural blueprint.

In 1999, Netflix published its “Culture Code,” a 124-slide presentation that Face­book COO Sheryl Sandberg called the most important document ever to come out of Silicon Valley. This document spells out what the company expects of employ­ees and what employees can expect from the company. It very clearly states that Netflix is not for everyone, and if you do not meet their extreme performance ex­pectations, if you are not the best at what you do, or if technology or marketplace changes marginalize your current skill set and you do not grow beyond that, you will receive “a generous severance package.”

The person who created the culture code subsequently received a generous severance package, proving that it is tak­en very seriously. You might or might not like Netflix’s cultural expectations, but no­body should ever be surprised by them.

Coralville-based MediRevv provides revenue cycle services for hospitals. The company consistently makes CBJ’s lists of Fastest Growing Companies and Coolest Places to Work. CEO Chris Klitgaard attri­butes its success to the company’s culture, which is celebrated in a “culture book” where employees are invited to express their thoughts about the MediRevv cul­ture (an idea pioneered by Zappos).

A typical employee comment from the 2016 edition reads: “To me, MediRevv culture is knowing that you’re in an envi­ronment where everyone wants to see you succeed, and they also genuinely want you to be as happy as you can be in reaching for that success. Culture really is conta­gious in the workplace, and I’m lucky that it’s something I want to catch as opposed to staying far away from.” When a compa­ny’s employees are saying things like that, it makes recruiting and marketing a whole lot easier.

The interior finish: Workplace attitude

One of our guiding insights at Values Coach is that culture does not change un­less and until people change, because an organization’s culture is defined by the collective attitudes and behaviors of the people who work there. That is the inte­rior finish in our architectural construct. The attitudes that people bring to their work are a visible manifestation of values and culture in action.

Because change is hard for most people, we have developed practical tools for val­ues-based life and leadership skills. One of the ways we help people become more aware of their own attitudes is The Pickle Pledge, by which people promise to turn every complaint into either a blessing or a constructive suggestion. We use the pick­le as a metaphor because people who are always whining look like they were born sucking on a dill pickle. When an entire team makes this commitment, the work­place becomes a Pickle-Free Zone. You can see more at

At University Health Iowa River Land­ing in Coralville, manager Michelle Turn­er uses The Pickle Pledge to encourage a spirit of positive commitment and fel­lowship. In our book, “Pickle Pledge: Creating a More Positive Healthcare Cul­ture – One Attitude at a Time,” Bob and I quoted Michelle as saying: “We have the opportunity as leaders to not only create a culture where staff enjoy coming to work, but are passionate about maintaining a drama-free, emotionally healthy environ­ment – a Pickle-Free Zone.”


We have seen firsthand how investments in an organization’s invisible architecture can yield incredible returns. Over the past four years, for example, Midland Health’s commitment to building a culture of ownership has resulted in record patient satisfaction, dramatic improvements in quality and safety indicators, a 35 percent reduction in RN turnover, significant cost savings and an enhanced ability to recruit great talent.

When it comes to the things that really matter in an organization, including em­ployee engagement, customer satisfaction, quality, safety, productivity and profitabil­ity – the invisible architecture has a far greater impact than the visible architec­ture of bricks and mortar.

Joe Tye is CEO and head coach of Solon-based Values Coach Inc. He can be reached at (319) 624-3889 or [email protected].